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A $3 million plan for park at Detroit Mt

Under an ambitious $3.2 million draft plan unveiled Tuesday, three years from now Detroit Mountain will be home to not only a full-service ski area and new visitor's center, but a year-round regional park, complete with campsites, disc golf, and trail systems, including Nordic skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and mountain biking.

Becker County would only have to kick in a total of $340,000 and would then own the land and all the amenities.

A non-profit group called Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc. would partner with the county and run the ski area.

Under the preliminary three-year plan, the group would raise funds and contribute $980,000 towards the total project cost.

A yet-to-be-obtained state regional park grant would pay for $1.68 million, and the county would contribute $320,000 for property acquisition and another $20,000 for contingencies.

Aaron Lauinger, secretary of the DMRA Board, spoke to the county board Tuesday, along with Mark Fritz, who is also active with the group.

They met with a tepid reception from commissioners, with supporters like Barry Nelson wondering if the group was trying to do too much, too fast.

"This document is a big bite," he said. He would like to see the group focus on the basics of obtaining the land and creating a regional park, then easing into downhill ski operations.

Opponents on the county board, like Larry Knutson, said "as far as I'm concerned, this (plan) is just paper," and questioned why the county should be involved at all, since it is only being asked to pay about 10 percent of the total project cost.

The group can't do it without partnering with the county in order to be eligible for state grants, and to shelter under the county's lawsuit cap -- which will allow the group to purchase liability insurance at an affordable rate, Lauinger responded.

The county would use $250,000 in economic development funds to pay for most of its share, and parks and trails funds for the rest, said EDA Coordinator Guy Fischer.

"The application deadline (for the DNR's regional Park Grant Program) is not until March 2011, we have time to rework it, maybe do some fundraising. But it's important to remember that at the end of the day, the property becomes the county's. We'll be getting $3.2 million in land and infrastructure for 10-15 percent of the cost," Fischer said.

The DNR grant program pays up to 60 percent of the total cost for a qualifying project, Lauinger noted, and this one fits the criteria to a tee.

Under the draft proposal, the 260-acre site would be purchased and developed in stages over three years.

It operated as a private ski area until 2004, and much of the infrastructure -- roads, parking lot, lodge, electrical, water, two of five lifts, and ski slopes and trails remain intact.

Here's a quick rundown on the proposed capital improvements:

The entrance road will be improved for safety and stability. Cost: $60,000.

The parking lot holds 180 vehicles and will be regraded and resurfaced with gravel at a cost of $25,000.

Facility grounds will be cleaned up and scrap iron, equipment and 170 cubic yards of debris removed.

About 60 new signs will be needed, 36 within the first year, to guide visitors to different areas throughout the park. Cost: $13,000.

Five park shelters will be built, two on the summit of the hill. Two the first year, two the second year, and a more elaborate one in the third year. Cost: $37,000.

Playground equipment will be installed the second year at a cost of $23,000.

It will cost $150,000 to $200,000 to rehabilitate the existing visitor's center, or $400,000 to $500,000 to build a new center.

Primitive and semi-primitive camping sites will be provided for tents and RVs. A bathhouse/toilet facility will be built to serve the campers. Cost: $80,000.

Improvements to 4.2 miles of general hiking trails: $6,000.

A system of Nordic ski trails would include 5 kilometers the first year, with the opportunity to add another 9 miles in the next few years. DNR trail money and volunteer help from the high school Nordic ski team would help keep costs low.

Mountain bike trails would include a beginner loop, intermediate loop and advanced loop, with built-in challenges and a standard-sized graded surface. Cost: $24,000.

An 18-hole disc golf course would be perfect for the site in the summer months. Cost: $14,000.

Install a tow rope for snow tubing, to be done the first year: $15,000.

The second and third year of the plan includes buying and installing three ski lifts to serve all nine runs, at a total cost of $650,000.

Snow-making equipment and infrastructure improvements, to be complete in the third year: $70,000.

Rental equipment for customers, including skis, snowboards, boots and poles. Cost: $100,000.

Other start-up costs include lift ticket systems, a slope/trail groomer, safety signage, fencing, impact cushions and ski patrol expenses, to be implemented over the second and third year. Cost: $200,000.

The DMRA projects concession revenues of about $50,000 a year from the downhill and camping operations. A charitable fundraising model will be developed for DMRA for capital improvements and annual operating costs.

The county board went into closed session Tuesday to discuss purchase negotiations for the Detroit Mountain property, but no action was taken.